On My Shoulders

Scott Martin

IN SOME FAMILIES, adult siblings work together to take care of their aging parents. But many times, one adult child ends up doing most, if not all, of the work—which is how things have played out in my family.

I’m the oldest sibling, and my wife and I took on the task of caring for my octogenarian mother and stepfather after they moved to Georgia from Colorado in 2017. I have a brother and stepbrother who live in other states.

Since our parents grew up during the Great Depression and Second World War, they were always very frugal. They also didn’t seem confident that either my brother or stepbrother would be much help as they aged. Instead, they leaned on my wife and me, in large part because we work in health care and could oversee their health needs, as well as the fact that we live debt-free.

Even though my stepfather never mentioned it, I know that the lack of a meaningful relationship with his son bothered him. Before he passed away in 2021, my stepfather told me that he’d been giving money to his son, now in his 50s, and was trying to teach him how to invest. I had my doubts about the success of this venture, but I kept my thoughts to myself.

I’ve known my stepbrother for more than 45 years, but we have never had any type of relationship. Both of his parents were physicians and, in my opinion, he was a spoiled only child. As an adult, the only time he’d visit his father was when his travel was paid for by his father. He often failed to call or send a card on Father’s Day, Christmas and birthdays.

My stepfather was hospitalized after a fall in summer 2020, so I called my stepbrother to let him know. Prior to this, I hadn’t talked to my stepbrother in many years. His first response was to get angry with me because I hadn’t called sooner. While biting my tongue, I explained to him that his father didn’t want me to call right after his fall and surgery. In addition, I explained that my wife and I were doing our best to help my mildly demented 87-year-old mother, as well as his 88-year-old father, while navigating a pandemic.

During fall 2020, my stepbrother and I talked on the phone a few times and he did make an effort to visit his father in the assisted living facility near us. I quickly noticed, however, that every time I talked to him on the phone or in person he would ask about his father’s investments or how much their house was selling for. I always told him that, in my role as his stepfather’s agent under his power of attorney, I was a fiduciary and that he should talk to his father if he wanted more information. Of course, he made no offer to help me prepare their home prior to putting it up for sale.

After my stepfather’s death in 2021, neither my brother nor stepbrother have made any effort to find out how my mother is doing. There haven’t been any calls, texts or emails from either one. My brother has made no effort to visit his mother. Yet both expect to receive an inheritance once my mother passes away. As executor, I will carry out the wishes of our parents as detailed in their wills.

If you find yourself named as executor or granted power of attorney, it’s important to make sure your actions are above suspicion. Soon after my stepfather died, I notified his pension provider, as well as the Social Security Administration, of his passing. Both were very efficient at recalculating the monthly benefits for my mother.

While going through this process, I realized how easy it would be for caregivers to delay informing pension providers or Social Security of address changes or the death of elderly family members. But I also learned of one obstacle to fraudulent behavior: The funeral home told me that it notifies Social Security after a person’s death.

According to the 2021 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, government documents or benefits fraud is the leading type of identity theft. This type of identity theft is higher than that for either credit card fraud or loan or lease fraud.

Frequently, it’s a family member who takes financial advantage of the elderly. Indeed, older adults tend to suffer larger financial losses when the perpetrator is someone they know. Comparitech has reported that losses from financial abuse of the elderly in all 50 states exceed $113.7 billion a year. It’s widely accepted that this annual loss is less than the actual amount due to the underreporting of elder fraud.

These numbers are mind-boggling to me.

When I was named in my parents’ powers of attorney, I felt honored. But I also came to realize the magnitude of the responsibility. To try and reduce fraud, I placed a credit freeze on both parents. I also hired an attorney who specializes in elder law to assist me. My goal has been to make sure that they were comfortably taken care of in their final years, while managing their significant assets competently and without any question of shenanigans.

Scott Martin is a semi-retired family medicine physician associate (previously known as a physician assistant) and has been practicing medicine for the past 18 years. His previous career was in academia doing research and teaching at the University of Georgia. He and his wife enjoy traveling and spending time with family. Scott’s previous article was Too Trusting.

Do you enjoy HumbleDollar? Please support our work with a donation. Want to receive daily email alerts about new articles? Click here. How about getting our twice-weekly newsletter? Sign up now.

Browse Articles

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Free Newsletter